We want to preface this review with some brief explanations.
First, we have not, historically, been an RST dealer. We have the greatest respect for this amazingly successful British brand: these guys offer terrific-looking gear at amazing prices. But we have set out our stall. We offer a very specific array of brands, and we simply don’t think that RST is the most natural fit for us. But it is not that unusual for us to cherry pick just one or two individual products from a brand. We have always been product, rather than brand, focussed; and so if we come across something that we think is truly exceptional, we will take on just that one single product if we have to. And that is very much what we have here. This new Fusion jacket from RST is pretty amazing on a number of levels. And because of this we really want to offer it to our customers.
The second matter we wanted to confront concerns airbags themselves. Of course, we see the benefits. There are circumstances in which an airbag could potentially save your life, but we struggle a little with the notion that we should all, therefore, wear one. On a personal level, in most circumstances, I would definitely choose not to. For me, biking is about a degree of spontaneity, the wind in your hair, the freedom and exhilaration that one gets from riding down a winding road on a summer’s evening; and not necessarily at any great speed. And I don’t think I would get quite the same feeling if I were trussed up like a chicken in an airbag vest. If ever my concerns for my own safety reach the kind of level where I feel I always need to wear an airbag, I’ll probably put the bike in the garage and take up something less dangerous like line dancing. Yet that is just me, my risk profile and how that reflects perhaps the kind of riding I do. On the track, then yes without a doubt. And if I were commuting 45 minutes plus either way, 12 months of the year, I’d probably see things differently. But I live five minutes from the office, so my commute is almost over before it begins.
Now one of the issues I have with airbags, from a passive safety perspective, is the way they can affect the breathability of the gear you wear. Modern technical wear fundamentally relies on a level of breathability to perform its function. And wearing an airbag vest inside, or outside, your technical jacket will impair the ability of the membrane to help the rider control his or her temperature and humidity levels. In hot conditions, you need to sweat to cool down. And a membrane allows this to happen. An airbag vest will both reduce incoming air through a jacket’s vents, but more importantly will impede the ability of sweat to escape from the body as vapour. And this is vital because, if we can’t sweat effectively the body loses its ability to cool itself. So, in hot conditions, an airbag has the potential to cause overheating. An airbag can also be problematic in cold conditions. If the membrane is blocked, there can be a build up of moisture inside the jacket. And this moisture will allow the body’s heat to be conducted away from the body far faster than is the case when the skin is dry.and when it is cold, this is not something you want.
But we do feel a little differently about an airbag in a jacket like the one we are reviewing here. You do not normally wear a leather jacket like this in extreme conditions. We see a leather jacket as something you would normally wear when you’re out having fun. If it’s searingly hot, blindingly cold or numbingly wet, you would tend to wear a textile jacket. And so, in most of the circumstances in which you would be wearing a jacket like this, the airbag component will not adversely affect the rider’s comfort to any significant degree, in our view. There are no truths, no rights and no wrongs here; just opinions. This is merely how we see things. As we have said, we’ve never got behind airbags in a major way but, for the reasons we have outlined, we are prepared to get behind this particular jacket. We think it works.
So before we talk about the airbag wizardry in this jacket, let us look at the Fusion as a café racer-style jacket in its own right.
Well, it ticks all the boxes. It’s made from a waxed, aniline leather. And so the leather feels particularly soft and supple. Aesthetically, the jacket is right on message. It is an archetypal, café-racer jacket of exactly the type that would be provided by a film company’s wardrobe department if it was dressing a cool-looking, tough guy who tools around the streets of London on an equally cool-looking badass motorcycle. You get no unnecessary embellishments. You get some extra padded panelling on the shoulders, a short collar, buckled waist adjusters and a lowered back. Not everybody wants a jacket like this. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the look of the Fusion jacket.
It is a very comfortable jacket to wear. Does its airbag make it heavy? Well, it’s certainly heavier than it would be if the jacket didn’t have an airbag, but at 3.5kg. it’s exactly the same weight as the Helstons Ace Vintage, for example. What also contributes to the jacket’s comfort are the four-way stretch panels up the flanks and in the upper arms. Now, helpful as these are when it comes to wearability, these stretch panels are really there to enable the jacket to expand when the airbag inflates. Watch our video review, and you will see why these are so necessary.
The jacket comes with Level 1 armour in the elbows and shoulders; and this is what we would expect. This is a café-racer jacket, and not a trackday or sportsbike jacket, so Level 1 is totally appropriate. The jacket is certified, as a standalone jacket as an AA level garment under EN 17092. Now, there are AAA rated leather jackets out there, although they tend to be more sport-oriented than this one, but AA is perfectly acceptable on a jacket like this, where there is a desire to balance comfort with protection.
But when you throw in the airbag component you are looking at, without any doubt, the safest and most protective café-racer jacket ever produced. Now we will come back and talk about the airbag itself in much greater detail later, but the effect of the vest, in those areas where it inflates, is equivalent to the protection that you would get from two Level 2 protectors placed one on top of the other. The areas that the airbag covers when inflated are the thoracic cage, the abdomen, the shoulders and most of the spine. When it inflates, it will also reduce rotation and hyper extension of the neck, thus also protecting the top of the spine where it meets the neck.
Now some of our Italian friends bandy around numbers that sound even more impressive, but they tend to talk about the area that records the highest level of energy absorption, rather than the average. And there’s a big difference. The ‘two Level 2 protectors’ analogy used here is the average across the bag. And, of course, it’s even higher down the spine where there is also a traditional Level 1 back protector. Those airbags that are specified for racing are also much less comprehensive in terms of their body coverage. To be blunt, they are produced to an FIM specification designed to be of use to racers on track. Those systems were never designed for the road in the way that the airbag in this jacket has been.
The bottom line here is this: this is the safest, casual-looking leather jacket on the market. If it’s not sufficiently protective for you, go out and buy yourself a Volvo.
The airbag vest in the Fusion jacket is supplied by In&Motion. These guys produce the most widely used, and most sophisticated, airbag on the market. It is used by Furygan, Ixon, Klim and Held, amongst others.
The system does not require a cable to be attached to the bike. It works on the basis of accelerometers and a gyroscope that are built into the ‘brains’ module. There is also a GPS built into the unit, but this is not actually vital to the triggering, so the airbag will still inflate if you have an accident inside a tunnel. Now, it is the sensors in the control unit that provide the information that is required to trigger an inflation. But that triggering is ultimately controlled by a series of algorithms.
It is these algorithms that mean that the airbag will not inflate if you fall off in the car park. Nor will it inflate under the hardest acceleration or under the harshest of braking. The accelerometers, in conjunction with the gyroscope, need to detect violent changes of speed and direction. Now the clever thing about the brains module is that it is constantly reporting back to In&Motion’s technical centre. To date the system has monitored more than 30 million kilometers of usage. And some 1000 accidents. All this information helps to improve the algorithms, and to make them more responsive in the event of accidents in the future. Making sure that the bag always goes off when you need it, and not when you don’t.
When the airbag inflates, it does so in less than 60 milliseconds. But it deflates only very slowly. If you are able to get up and walk after an accident, you can take the jacket off and manually deflate the airbag, but the idea is that it stays inflated so that the body continues to stay protected whilst you wait for the emergency services to turn up.
In essence, you buy the jacket, which comes with the airbag and all the necessary hardware. And you then lease the ‘brains’ module directly from In&Motion. This module clips into the back protector. There is an option to buy the control unit but, in our view, this would not make a lot of sense.
Now the RST Fusion jacket costs £449.99. That’s expensive for an RST leather jacket, without a doubt. But bear this in mind. The standalone In&Motion airbag vest on its own from Klim costs £370. Which makes this jacket look like a bit of a bargain.
The control unit can be leased for £12 a month or £120 a year. Now, all the while you are leasing it, the product remains under warranty. If you rent monthly, you can, say over the winter, cancel the lease but, if you do this, you have to send it back to France. Alternatively, you can hold on to it and reduce the monthly payment to £4. But be aware that during this time your airbag will not work on the bike!
You can update your unit to get the latest version of the algorithm by using the app., or it will update itself automatically when you recharge the unit, provided that it is within reach of a Wi-Fi connection. Once charged, the unit is good for 20 hours of riding or 15 days on standby; but again the app. will keep you informed as to the state of the battery.
Once you’ve leased the unit for three years, you can buy it for a reduced price of £99. But, in our view, you wouldn’t do this because the vest would be out of warranty. And if In&Motion ever wanted to upgrade the box, you would have to buy another one. If you’re leasing it, it would simply be replaced.
There is an option to buy the unit outright from the outset. The cost would be £399. And for this you would get lifetime updates via the internet. But, again, after the second year, you will have no warranty, so once more we see leasing as the most cost effective and sensible route.
All of your dealings in this regard will be directly with In&Motion’s UK office. The seller of the jacket/vest has no involvement in that part of the process. Their website, if you want to check things out, is www.inemotion.com.
Some things you might want to bear in mind. When one of the Italian airbags goes off, you’re in for a long wait and a large bill. With the Fusion jacket, you can have three inflations before it needs to be inspected, not by the boffins in north an Italy, but by the boffins over here up in northern England.
The jacket and the airbag may well be able to withstand up to 20 inflations, but the reason that RST want to check the jacket out after three inflations is because the force of an inflation is such that it can put excessive strain on the structure of the jacket and the stitching on its internals. There is currently no charge for this inspection. There is one point you should bear in mind, however. If you’ve had three inflations with this jacket, you might want to consider taking up a different hobby, and potentially consider buying a car!
You can have the jacket professionally inspected after just one inflation. Again there would be no charge for this. Whenever you do have an inflation, you’ll need to replace the Argon gas cylinder. The cylinder, by the way, sits in a recess in the back protector. And that’s important, because with some of the lanyard-operated airbag vests out there the cylinder sits right up against the rib cage in a way that looks as though it could cause serious damage in an accident if the vest didn’t inflate. A replacement gas cylinder will cost £90.
We are not going to tell people that they should wear an airbag vest or an airbag jacket, in the way that we are usually more than prepared to tell people that they should buy the best helmet they can afford. Of course, we can see why some people feel that they want to, or should, wear an airbag vest of some description. As we’ve said it’s all about your approach to risk; the bike you ride, how you ride, where you ride, when you ride, and so on.
An airbag is never going to be cheap. If you purchased this particular jacket and the control module outright you’d be in for £750, but you’d only have a warranty for the first two years. If you bought the jacket and leased the brains for four years, you’d be in for £930. The benefit of leasing, obviously, is that, even after four years, the system would still be under warranty. Is this a lot of money? We can’t say. Many people would think nothing of spending that or more on an after-market exhaust or a suspension upgrade. Both of those might make you feel better about your bike. But neither are potentially going to be able prevent a long stay in hospital.
I still don’t currently see myself riding with an airbag vest, but that doesn’t mean that I never would. But if I’m travelling long distances at speed, I will usually be in a technical jacket. And in these circumstances, I would not want to wear one, because I cannot see the point in wearing an expensive technical jacket, and then preventing it from doing its job by wearing an airbag over, or under, it By contrast, if I’m wearing a leather jacket, I’ll usually be riding locally at embarrassingly low speeds, so wouldn’t feel I needed to wear one. So, right now, much as I appreciate what an airbag vest can do, and much as I am impressed with the RST Fusion, it’s not yet for me.
For you, though, it might well be a totally different story! And if you want to combine an airbag with a cool-looking, café-racer jacket, there’s nothing out there that comes close to the Fusion.
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